Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Struggle All Over Again

Many have described history as a cycle, a tide, a repetition of events and eventualities whose players change as the games remain the same. However, we here at not-Yale have been taught to be different, to be the people who fight these patterns, to combat these cycles, to change history. We are bred to be the innovators, the explorers of new pathways, those who turn the tide of history, and should we fail, well, we have to say we went to not-Princeton or something equally humiliating. So imagine my pain and surprise this Monday morning when I watched as my computer once again became possessed with the spirit of an angry and vengeful demon, some wire-spirit or hardware-dwarf whose presence in my computer was causing the keyboard to act out like a pre-teen who has seen that Hannah Montana movie one too many times and now would like to have "the best of both worlds" just like Miley. As I stared in shock and horror at my screen I was struck by how similar this morning felt to a morning not long ago when my youthful smile was demolished in the face of a demon-computer. I thought back to my wild and crazy adventure running around the suburbs of Connecticut in desperate search of an Apple store, and shuddered at the thought of reliving such a time in my life. But what was I to do? Where was I to turn? Why didn't I go to not-MIT where computer technicians are a dime a dozen?

Deciding that these questions were counter-productive, and reflecting that nobody likable goes to not-MIT, I searched for options to fix my computer. This task was made more difficult by the fact that at this point the keyboard on my computer was making every other word all capital letters and was refusing to type the number 6. Throwing up my hands in despair I decided, with the urging of my gallant friend Cory, to do something I would NEVER have otherwise done, something dreadful, something insane, something absolutely unspeakable. That's right, I was going to leave my computer with the not-Yale Technological Services.

Now, normally I would never venture down into the scaly underbelly of one of not-Yale's many libraries to visit the pale and brilliant men and women who know the ways of the computer world. But this was an emergency, and so, with Cory's support, I timidly tread into the office gingerly proffered up my insane computer for their ministrations. When I asked them for an eta on my computer's return date I was met with awkward looks and the term "sundayish" got thrown around a lot. Heart sinking, I turned to Cory, who gave me a "cheer up little camper" look. Okay, I thought, I can do this. I can deal with this. I can read and write on paper, and go to the gym a lot and learn to quilt or sew or make jam or whatever it is that the Amish do. I could deal with this. Think about all of the people who don't have computers at all! Parts of Africa, South America, Asia, the entire island of New Guinea, I mean, what, I'm going to let some tribal islanders beat me out? No, I was committed to a life without my computer. Whatever came my way, I could take it.

Of course, with this attitude, it stands to reason that two days later the nice tech people emailed me to say my computer was ready. No sooner had I gotten used to life without my laptop and they give it back to me. All of my grand plans to read and lounge and learn to drive a buggy where for nought. I had a brief moment of mourning for my lost hopes before I turned on my computer and realized all of the hulu I could be catching up on. Thank you, good techies, thank you, you have given me back my computer all demon-free and shiny. I really am going to do my best to make sure that this doesn't happen a third time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Struggle with Ancient Athens

I have been having an epically tough week. I say this not to garner sympathy for myself but rather to explain the background of my struggle, to set the scene as it were. Of late I have had a series of final projects, essays, general graded opportunities from which I have had to emerge day after day to face the next one. I have not seen my friends in quite a while and though I vaguely remember their faces it would no be utterly impossible for me to miss such people on the street. I might be walking, or rather, trotting like a sweaty eager young pony down the streets of not-New Haven, and a friend, say, my fantastic friend Jenny, might call my name. Confused, disoriented, I pull myself out of my swirling mind consumed with thoughts of Spanish oral exams and Ibsen's later, more outrageous works and scan the street. Like some kind of super computer I search out every cranny of the road in front of me and, observing nothing familiar, continue on, where I walk squarely into my friend who has been standing in front of me the whole time. As my life becomes more and more chaotic, I can't help but compare my own existence with the structure of Greek drama. As utterly intellectual as this sounds, there is method to my madness. You see, one of the more delightful aspects of this week's struggle has been my participation in a production of Hippolytus, the tragedy by Euripides. I play Aphrodite, who has quite the bee in her bonnet about young Hippolytus and exacts her revenge quickly and efficiently, with just the right amount of choral odes. As I sat backstage and touched up my lipstick during tonight's performance, I could see quite clearly the way that my struggle and the struggle of Greek drama are intrinsically connected.

Let's break it down for those less geeky then I, shall we? Important components of Greek Tragedy, as defined by Aristotle, as made slang by me:

1. Unities of Time, Space and Action: Time, this week, Space, not-Yale, Action: Struggle on through it.
2. Incentive moment, or Beginning: Waking up on Monday morning with the soul crushing realizing that this week was going to be one struggle on top of another, what with the exams and projects and general inability to dress self with any kind of nod to style/attractiveness. Taking things one step at a time tried to pick out an outfit with components of cleanliness and cuteness intact. Then stared at list of things to do this week and fought the urge to scream and wake up lovely roommates.
3. Hamartia: tragic flaw or error in judgement that causes the downfall of the protagonist. In this case the Hamartia would be my assumption that sleep is for losers and fascists and that I could do without it.
4. Stichomythia: dialogue of single alternating lines spoken in quick succession. I would quote my conversations of the week but they consist mostly of sighs, silent screams, and the repression of hysterical laughter.
5. Climax and catastrophe: the pivotal or turning point of a play, followed immediately by it's severe and sudden consequences. Here in the struggleverse, that would have been sometime Wednesday night between one of my three rehearsals as I desperately tried to finish my Spanish reading and maintain consciousness in the face of the sweet sweet lure of sleep. Any guesses for the winner?
6. Resolution and catharis: The end of the play, punishment for the guilty, a general feeling of spiritual cleansing for all...Yeah, I'm still waiting on that one.

Now, luckily for me this is the point where my life and Greek Drama part ways, because otherwise I might find myself marrying my brother and eating my cousin for lunch or something alone those lines. And frankly, with my schedule, who has that kind of time?

Above is me with my friend and fellow dramatist, wine. If you get the chance I heartily recommend that you get to know each other. It's always worked for me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday Monday Struggle Days

Very few things in life feel like Monday morning. It's an indescribable feeling, a Monday morning, it's like being lightly hit in the face over and over again by an affable but annoying friend whose presence in your life seems accidental at best. That or it's like getting into a really lovely outfit, something that makes you feel "right fit" as the British would say, (I've been listening to a lot of Lily Allen lately) and then being splashed by a bus the moment you walk out of you home. It's either of those, or maybe both at once, you can decide for yourself. This Monday morning met me as I lay curled in a small ball on my extremely uncomfortable dorm room bed with a gray and dreary sky, which is always a lovely way to start the week.

Now, typically I try to be productive with my Monday mornings. While I don't have any classes I do like to use this time clean my room, make my bed, get reading done, and by this I mean I watch my netflix in my pajamas and eat whatever I have lying around because the dining hall is just too damn far away for me to make an effort. But, you know, it's a plan. However, this morning I just couldn't be bothered, even for my less then lofty morning plans. I simply lay in my bed staring at another cloudy and dreadful day here in not-New Haven and wondered what has become of my motivation.

When I was a freshman in college it was not uncommon for me to spend a Friday night studying. Not only was I spectacularly fascinated with the work of Kierkegaard and Burke and Dostoevsky, not only did I have VERY few friends, but additionally I thought it was what I was supposed to be doing. I had drive, I had the fire, I HAD to be reading and working, using every moment, cramming my time full of work, reading, writing, pondering, in general being extremely impressed with myself and my adventures in higher learning. But as the years have passed and with them my intense and fiery neurotic motivation I seems to have lost the urgent feeling that every moment needs to be filled to the brim with my productivity. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a totally compulsive crazy, and if you put a book in front of me it WILL get read. Eventually. Just not this morning. Because this morning I was struggling in bed, cursing the weather, and wondering if not-New Haven ever gets any better then this. But then again, that might just be the Monday.

The weather got you down?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Struggle with a flare for the dramatic

Though it is well-known for it's drama school, not-Yale's undergraduate community also has a vibrant and thriving theater scene, which amuses outsiders and consumes insiders in it's inferno of productions and factions. As a freshman this world is intriguing and exciting, but by the time you have reached your senior year you might have, if you are like me and have decided sleeping is something other people do, participated in some 35 productions in some capacity or another. From director to props master, I've pretty much done almost every task that you could think of might be included in creating a show, and some that you wouldn't. My freshmen year I spent the better part of a week trying to create a believable looking but edible fake blood recipe in my dorm bathroom, and had to face some very suspicious looks from the janitorial staff. And of course it becomes a vicious cycle, you do a show, you meet some nice people, they ask you to do another show, you agree, you meet more nice people, you direct them in a show, they ask you to design lights, you meet more people, you do more shows, it goes on and on. However, far worse then the obligation to be involved in other people's productions is the obligation to SEE other people's productions. Should someone ask you to be a part of show you have no interest in you can politely, exclaiming that you couldn't POSSIBLY give the project the effort it deserves with your jam packed schedule, and that the task of costume designer/role of servant #4/set painter/coffee bitch is just WAY to important to be given to someone who can't fully commit to it. Fine, no harm no foul, everyone is still friends.

However, the demand that you ATTEND other people's outputs of creativity is no as easy to escape. On one level you feel the need to support that friend whose production you were unable to direct/light/choreograph, and hope that going to the show will make up for your lack of participation. On another level you have made all these friends along your adventures in theater at not-Yale, and you want them to feel that you are excited to see their efforts. However, when so many shows go up each weekend, each of which stars/features/exploits a good friend or mild but amusing acquaintance it often comes down to some difficult decisions. Do I see the futuristic production King Lear at 8pm, then the neo-colonialist performance of The Importance of Being Ernest at 11pm? Then I would have to see the matinee performance of the interpretive dance of the life of Abraham Lincoln tomorrow, so I can catch the performance of Glen Gary Glen Ross set in a clown college at 9. Choosing the weekends events becomes not about quality but about quantity, specifically, how many people do I know in the production, who will be the most angry if I don't show up, who couldn't care less, these are the calculations I have to perform before even leaving my room. I would say that I flatter myself in thinking anyone would notice my presence or absence in the audience, but I have been blessed (or cursed) with a highly distinctive laugh that only emerges when I watch a play. Halfway between a snort and a squawk, with a little bit of donkey thrown in, it erupts from my mouth almost against my volition, particularly when I think something is funny that other people find deeply sad or troubling. So while others may be able to come and go unnoticed and unsung, I am always a felt presence, which makes every weekend's struggle to decide what shows akin to tap dancing on a minefield.

However, as stressful as this weekly dilemma has been for me over the past four years, I have never even considered halting my compulsive attendance of as many shows in a weekend as possible. For one thing, theater here is for the most part totally free to attend. For another thing, nothing at not-Yale starts before 10pm, so you might as well spend two hours in a darkened room with a bunch of people pretending to be someone else, because it's better then spending that time alone in your own room pretending YOU are someone else. But I think the real reason that I go to shows regardless of their quality or, often, my interest in them, is that I know when the time comes and I'm involved in something really important some of those people will be right there, in the front row, possibly bored, possibly drunk, possibly imitating my own animal-like laugh, but present, watching me or my work instead of doing something else. It may be a huge struggle on a weekly basis, but it's one of the struggles I
know best.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Struggle in the wee hours

I'm fairly certain it isn't supposed to go down like this. I've seen a lot of movies about college, and television shows set in college, and browsed teen fiction discussing college (what? I said BROWSE. Not read. Not more then once, certainly.) and everything I seen has indicated that one's senior year is about drinking and dancing and having highly enjoyable if morally/ethically questionable liaisons with attractive if inappropriate sexual partners. That was the deal. Work for three years, sure, but that fourth year, man, that was going to be awesome. I certainly hadn't planned to be spending the majority of my evenings up late in my pajamas working and wondering about the function of this soft rectangular thing in my room that takes up so much space where I could be putting books or something useful. There were going to be themed parties and movie outings and shopping trips, the cw network was very clear about this.

However, since I began my senior year of not-Yale, life has just been about jumping from one struggle to the next, and the only drinking I do is medicinal. I swear. It's a solution, guys, not a problem. Where is the wildness, the freedom, the weekend trips of Cabo? Growing up watching The OC did not prepare me for this. And frankly, having caught glimpses of the new 90210 and the far Superior Gossip Girl, I have to say, those high schoolers are having a lot of fun. Those high schoolers are doing some wild things. Those high schoolers have co-opted my college dreams!

Now, granted, these are fictional characters. Sure, fine, whatever. But that doesn't change the fact that these people have more free time then I have ever dreamt of. Or would. If I had time to sleep. They are running around in very movement-inappropriate footwear, blackmailing each other and sleeping with their teachers and having pregnancy scares, just in general living the dream. The most exciting thing that happened to me this week was the extra-large bag of Terra chips I bought today. It might not beat sleeping with your step-sister after a night spent running around clubbing, but it's pretty close.

To give credit where credit is due, the truth is that I probably couldn't live that life for more then one evening without having a nervous breakdown and looking for someone to give me an assignment before I collapse. The thing about working for years on end is that when it stops you have the constant vague feeling like you should be doing something productive but you aren't. This, incidentally, is why I create reading lists for myself over vacations, and stick to them like glue. Next up? Satanic Verse. Rushdie. It's going to be a fun summer.

I understand that I am in fact lucky to be in college and living in reality (or something vaguely like it, this is not-Yale, you know), but in my fantasies I would have had at least one run in with an Italian prince/rapper whose weekend chalet in Monaco is to die for. Or, you know, a little bit more time in the day to sleep and watch The Colbert Report. Oh, well. A girl can dream.

Sad for no reason? So is Sean Fournier. Watch his video:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Struggling Seders and other Jewish Folktales

Ah, spring, the time when young man's fancy turns to love. Or, to sudafed, as the tang of pollen fills the air and nasal cavities of some unfortunates. Of course, I'm very lucky, as my sinus are excellent, and I live in not-New Haven, where spring is like a mythical beast much discussed and rarely seen, it is our bigfoot, our nessie, our cylon. It is always among us, and yet never appears. And while we huddle together for warmth at not-Yale, well into April, we curse this "spring" business and comfort binge. Or maybe that's just me. But there is one thing that the climate of not-New Haven can't take away from me, despite it's best efforts to do so, and that's Passover. Friends, enemies, bored people coming across this blog on the internet, I love Passover. I love it. I love the ceremony and the food and the matzoh ball soup (though with that one who doesn't?). I love the wine, obviously, and I love the spirit of the event, bringing people together, welcoming strangers into your house, telling stories, repeating a centuries-old ritual, it's all good. But Leah, you're saying to yourselves, you hate people. That's like, your thing. The haterade. Well, that's true. But NOT at Passover. Passover, I love you all. Or I did....

Why was this Passover different then all other Passovers? Well, for one thing I couldn't go home as the Jewish calender in an effort to spite me and college-attending Jews everywhere, placed the first two nights of Passover in the middle of the week, so thank you Jewish calender, well done. For those who don't know, the first two nights of Passover are the nights of the Passover seder, the ceremonial dinner in which we recount the story of the liberation of the Jews from Egypt. What it ends up being, like all good Jewish holidays, is an excuse to get gloriously drunk among excellent food and company. But what was I to do? I couldn't go home, to the seder I know and trust, and the wine labels I had helped purchase. Well, luckily for me, the good people of the Chabad house at Yale were doing a seder I was luckily allowed to partake in. The nice thing about the Passover seder is that it takes forever to get to the food part, but you have to be drinking through the ceromony, so when the meal finally arrives after two hours of wine and hebrew whatever they put in front of you is going to taste amazing.

This is what I was counting on the next night, the second seder, because wonder of wonders I would be the one cooking. As I dashed from class to my friend's apartment to make the meal I found myself questioning my sanity. Why on earth had I thought that this would be a good idea? We had people coming in two hours, I had a meal for 8 to make, and my mind was still trying to deal with Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground, which isn't exactly a book themed for merrymaking. Cooking furiously as my friend Derek urged me on with the skill of an expert life coach I whirled around the tiny kitchen, seriously freaking out Becca's cat and cursing to my past self who had agreed to this struggle. This isn't how this was supposed to go, my mother was supposed to be there, and it's supposed to be in not-Philadelphia, and I'm supposed to already be on my second glass of wine! The struggle loomed large at the moment, I must say.

But the truth is as the guests poured in, gentile and jew alike, bringing with them wine and excitement, my own mood lifted. So what that the kitchen around me looked like a war zone and that the cat wouldn't stop sniffing the cooling cake on the windowsill? I was with people, with food, with good wine and celebrating a miracle. Frankly, beyond the Jews and the Egypt business, I count myself fortunate just for making it through the week.

Song that makes you feel like summer's almost not so far away? Luisa's Bones by Crooked Fingers. Look for it, I swear it will make you feel warmer.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Struggle by the numbers

I will be the first person to admit that I am not a math person. Well, first behind every math teacher, tutor, TA and professor that I have ever had. I just don't tend to think about things numerically. There are people to whom the world of numbers is logical, rational, they can break down the universe in those terms. A whole host of people spring to mind, my friend Jenny, an amazingly brilliant person who can do problems so far beyond my reach they exist in another dimension, or my father, who I still to this day occasionally call to calculate a particularly troublesome tip while dining. Actually, I know a lot of people like this, my friend Lisa who takes econometrics for fun, my friend Ben, who is going into some kind of consulting (perhaps? I'm never quite sure but it always sounds amazing), my lighting-fast brother, my gorgeous friend Jon, I'm not doubting the existence of people who can look at numbers and not immediately revert to Sesame Street, I'm just saying I'm not among them.

But lately as my time here at not-Yale draws to a close I've been thinking in an uncharacteristically numbers-oriented way. That's NOT to say that I've been looking at unemployment rates and stock quotes etc., no, goodness no, I'm not interested in having my eyeballs explode out of my head. But I am thinking about my time left here, and what I am supposed to be doing with it. One of the issues of the American education system, of which there are many that we wont be getting into, see my earlier line about the eyeballs, is that it gets you used to time moving along it's cycles. Even adults I know look forward to summer as if they too would be getting a vacation, and are always disappointed when they don't. As a result of my 21 years of conditioning, part of me is instinctively thrilled at the fact that I will be done with school on exactly 7 weeks from today. However, the other part of me is terrified, because I will be done with school exactly 7 weeks from today. (See what I did there?) And the more I think about it the worse it gets, every minute seems important, every decision I've made in the past about how to spend my time has been called into question. Why didn't I learn to speak Arabic and play the banjo and go to more lectures on the nature of time and space? Why didn't I take up painting and the unicycle and ornithology? What the hell have I been doing for these past four years?

As frighting as this point in my life is, and believe you me, it's some scary times, I can at least say that treating it like a numbers game makes it feel scarier. While I've made some poor decisions here at not-Yale, a lot of which, oddly enough, have included my good friend Tequila, I would say that that a lot of what I have done here has been pretty alright. If time is the mercy of eternity then I have been shown some fairly great mercy in my short time at not-Yale. Let's hope the next 7 weeks are greater the last 3 years and 6 months, or at the very least equal out.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Giving the Struggle the Boot

You know, everyone once in a while you will be walking along, minding your own business and all of a sudden a struggle will just walk up and hit you in the face. You might be having a perfectly normal day, or you might be having a day fit for a Salvador Dali painting, but nevertheless, it's your day, you're the one having it, there is no need for struggle to just barrel in like that, pulling up a seat and asking for a drink. But the struggle doesn't care, it's an inconvenient guest and it just comes on in like you sent it an invitation. The struggle, my friends, is in a permanent state of couch surfing. And today, as I innocently wandered about the streets of not-New Haven, enjoying the balmy 45 degree afternoon and the warm rays of the sun through the thick cloud cover, the struggle came a-callin' in the form of a small dog. Now, I would not say that this animal was particularly interesting or odd looking in and of itself. It was a medium sized animal, tan fur, one of those dogs who looks like some kind of poodle, and therefore I immediately took a disliking to it, but that's my baggage. I'm sure that in reality this was a loving, lovely, happy animal, a faithful pet, a kind friend, an excellent cuddler. Or it could have been an evil vicious animal, a junk-yard dog on crack, the beast described in The Sandlot. Either way, this animal did NOT deserve the struggle that it had been given by it's owner.

Now, I hear you saying to yourselves, Leah, be fair, how bad could it have been? Well, I will tell you. Booties. Four of them. Sheer red booties. On the small paws of this humble canine I saw small sock like objects, cinched at the ankle. SERIOUSLY? Booties? What, why, how, so very many questions raced through my head like marathon runners. Who makes such objects? Was it something the owner made for the dog, or is there an industry for this out there? Why would a dog need such an article of clothing? Did it have particularly sensitive soles? Did it in fact not have feet, and what I saw where really prosthetic paws? The options where endless.

On a larger level, and this really did get to me, why on earth would anyone look at their dog and say, you know what YOU could use, some clothing? I mean, the thing about animals is that they actually come with their own set of clothing! That's one of the benefits of animals, they don't require a wardrobe! They come all prepared! It's a perk! You may have to feed them and walk them but the outfits come free! It's warm in the winter and cool in the summer! All purpose, goes with everything! That's part of the point! My lord, why gild the lily?

Look, I can absolutely understand if you are a sled dog whose paws can get permanently be damaged by pacing about the rough and icy tundra you might be thinking that booties are the way to go. That I get. Makes sense. But a poodle? A poodle whose existence consists mainly of traipsing about not-New Haven and being fed milkbones? Does this animal seriously need some kind of foot protector? I say no. I'm taking a stand, here and now. I'm boycotting clothing of any kind on dogs, and I'm starting with the shoes. Low as my standards might be, I draw the line at booties.